Alopecia Areata – Know It All!
All you need to know about Patchy Hair Loss Disease.
Know your ailment well, so you can manage it better!!
Here we come with Alopecia areata today!
Alopecia areata is also called Patchy Hair Loss.
Alopecia areata is a condition that causes hair loss in round patches. This can lead to loss of whole hair. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease. That means the hair follicles are attacked by your immune system, which normally helps protect the body from infection and illness.
For most cases, hair falls out around the size of a quarter into thin, round patches, leaving a few bare patches. In some cases hair loss is more common. In rarer cases, the disease can cause complete hair loss on the head (called alopecia areata totalis) or on the whole body (alopecia areata universalis).
The doctor will not be able to tell whether the hair loss will stop at some stage, or whether it will grow again. This is also the worst and most painful part of the illness. You may keep losing hair, or the hair loss can stop. The hair you’ve lost may or may not grow back, and new bare patches may or may not continue to develop.
Who Develops Alopecia Areata?
- Alopecia areata affects almost 2 percent of Americans, regardless of sex, age, and race. Sometimes it starts in infancy.
- When a nearby family member has the condition you‘re at a significantly higher risk of developing alopecia areata. Your risk is much greater if your member of your family has lost his or her first hair patch before age 30.
- Among people whose family members have other autoimmune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, pernicious anemia, or Addison’s disease, alopecia areata occurs frequently. Individuals with alopecia areata typically do not have any autoimmune disorders but are more likely to have thyroid disease, atopic eczema (a long-term dry, itchy skin condition), nasal allergies, and asthma.
During alopecia areata, cells of the immune system called white blood cells invade the fast-growing hair follicle cells. The hair follicles affected get tiny and dramatically slow down the development of hair. Fortunately, the stem cells which continually supply new cells to the follicle do not appear to be attacked. The follicle therefore still has the ability to regrow hair.
What causes alopecia areata isn’t clear. While the disease may have been inherited from you, most children with alopecia areata do not have a parent with the illness. Scientists believe there might be a couple of genes working together to increase the risk of the disease. This makes it extremely unlikely that all the genes needed to put him or her at risk for alopecia areata will be inherited from your child.
And if you have all the requisite genes, you may not be having alopecia areata. For identical twins with exactly the same chromosomes, if the other one has the condition, there is a 55 percent risk that a twin will develop alopecia areata. This shows that other factors are required to cause the disease, in addition to genetics. The cause in your system may be a virus, or something else.
How to diagnose Alopecia Areata:
A doctor might be able to diagnose alopecia areata simply by looking at the severity of the hair loss and by microscopic examination of a few hair samples.
Your doctor can also conduct a scalp biopsy to rule out other hair loss-causing conditions like fungal infections such as tinea capitis. Your doctor will take out a small piece of skin on your scalp for analysis during a scalp biopsy.
Blood tests can be performed if you suspect any autoimmune disorders.
The specific blood test performed depends on what the doctor suspects of the particular disorder. A doctor would possibly check for the presence of one or more anomalous antibodies, though. If you find these antibodies in your blood, that typically means you have an autoimmune disorder.
Other blood tests that can help rule out other conditions include the following:
- C-reactive protein and erythrocyte sedimentation rate
- iron levels
- antinuclear antibody test
- thyroid hormones
- free and total testosterone
- follicle-stimulating and luteinizing hormone
- Alopecia areata is not uncomfortable and is not causing you to feel ill. People with the condition are generally healthy. For most cases, hair falls out around the size of a quarter into thin, round patches, leaving a few bare patches. In some cases more hair loss occurs. Although not common, the disease can cause total hair loss on the head (called alopecia areata totalis) or loss of all body hair (alopecia areata universalis).
- Alopecia affects both men and women equally.
There are a number of small changes that can occur to nails such as:
- pinpoint dents appear
- white spots and lines appear
- nails become rough
- nails lose their shine
- nails become thin and split
Additional clinical signs include:
- Exclamation mark hairs: This occurs when few short hairs that get narrower at their bottom and grow in or around the edges of bald spots.
- Cadaver hairs: This is where hairs break before reaching the skin surface.
- White hair: This may grow in areas affected by hair loss.
There is no cure for alopecia areata and no medications to treat it. However, medicines approved for other purposes can help hair grow back, at least temporarily.
- However, these medications do not prevent future hair loss. Talk with your health care professional about the best option for you. A combination of treatments may work best. Ask how long you will need to take medications, how long it will take before you see results, and about the possible side effects.
- Your hair may regrow with or without treatment, but it may also fall out again. No one can predict when it might regrow or fall out, since the disease differs from person to person.
- In most, the regrown hair is ultimately the same color and texture as the original hair. In some, the initial hair regrowth is white, with a gradual return of the original hair color.
How to Cope Up ?:
Alopecia areata is not painful and will not make you feel sick. It does not shorten your life and should not interfere with going to school, playing sports, exercising, working, marrying, or raising a family. If your child has alopecia areata, it is often helpful to tell teachers, coaches, and other caregivers of the disease. Let them know that alopecia areata is not contagious, and that your child is healthy.
If you have alopecia universalis (loss of all body hair), the lack of eyelashes, eyebrows, and hair in the nose and ears can make you more vulnerable to dust and germs entering the eyes, nose, and ears.
The emotional aspects of living with hair loss can be hard, especially in a culture that views hair as a sign of youth and good health. Many people cope by learning as much as they can about the disease, speaking with others who are facing the same problem, and, if necessary, seeking counseling to help build a positive self-image.
There are also things you can do to deal with the physical and mental consequences of this illness:
Establish a support network:
- Talk to others who have the same concerns. At some point in their lives, nearly 2 percent of Americans have this disease so you’re not alone. The key to coping with this is to value yourself for who you are, not how much hair you have or don’t.
- If you would like to talk with other people who are coping with alopecia areata, the National Alopecia Areata Foundation can help through its pen pal program, message boards, an annual conference, and support groups.
Reduce the physical dangers or discomforts of lost hair:
- Use sunscreens for the scalp, face, and all exposed skin.
- Wear eyeglasses (or sunglasses) to protect your eyes from sun, and from dust and debris when eyebrows or eyelashes are missing.
- Wear wigs, caps, or scarves to protect your scalp from the sun and keep the head warm.
- Apply antibiotic ointment inside your nostrils, if nostril hair is missing, to keep them moisturized and to protect them against germs and dust.
Minimize the effects on appearance:
- Wear a wig or hairpiece, which can look natural and stylish, if you have a greater degree of hair loss.
- Apply a hair-colored powder, cream, or crayon to the scalp to make hair loss less obvious by eliminating the contrast between the hair and the scalp.
- Use attractive scarves, bandanas, or caps.
- Use an eyebrow pencil to mask missing eyebrows.
- Ask your doctor or members of your local support group to help you find a cosmetologist who specializes in working with people whose appearance is affected by medical conditions.
While a cure is not yet in sight, research is providing us with a better understanding of the disease. This is likely to lead to better treatments for alopecia areata, and ultimately a way to cure or even prevent them.
Here are some very promising research areas:
- Developing animal models: Researchers are hoping to learn more about the condition by researching mouse models of alopecia areata and potentially create therapies for people.
- Studying hair follicle development: Studying how hair follicles form, develop, and cycle through phases of growth and rest may lead to hair loss treatments that go hand in hand with the condition.
- Understanding stem cell biology: Stem cells are responsible for the regeneration and maintenance of your hair and skin follicles and other tissues. In alopecia areata the stem cells in the follicle tend to be unharmed. This could explain why hair that is lost due to alopecia areata may be regrown. Scientists are studying stem cells in order to better understand the factors that cause the disease.
- Finding Genes: Scientists identified genes that are linked to alopecia areata. They also found that alopecia areata has genetic links with other autoimmune disorders, including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease. A comprehension of the disorder‘s genetics will help in prevention and treatment. The NIAMS supported the development of the National Alopecia Areata Registry, which collects information from people with the disease, to help gather the required information for genetic analysis.
Gopala Krishna Varshith,
Content Developer & Editor,